What is Doxxing on Twitter? Twitter owner Elon Musk last week suspended the account of a Florida student who was posting the location of private jets, including Musk’s. He suggested the student was tweeting out his “assassination coordinates.”
The shutdowns escalated to include prominent journalists and other accounts that had discussed his plane’s location — although the former were later reinstated. To justify the move, he rewrote some of Twitter’s policies to try and stop people from sharing those details.
But some of the information Musk was concerned about on Twitter is publicly available, due to dramatic improvements in how the aviation system tracks aircraft to ensure a high level of safety and to improve efficiency. Untangling privacy concerns from the improvements in the underlying technology isn’t easy, say aviation experts.
What is Doxxing on Twitter?
Doxxing is the act of exposing a person’s anonymous online profile or revealing their data online without their permission. The act of disclosing someone’s full name, address, contact number, and other identifying details without that person’s consent is referred to as “the data” in this context. Due to the possibility of information being misused, it may be dangerous.
Online resources like social media accounts or public records are frequently used to find this information. Doxxing is a significant privacy violation that can lead to identity theft, online abuse, stalking, physical damage, and other forms of cyberbullying for the individual whose data is disclosed.
This data is frequently acquired via a variety of techniques, including IP addresses, social media profiles, data purchases from data brokers, phishing attempts, and even the interception of internet traffic.
Why are billionaires’ private planes so easily tracked?
The flight-tracking data can be used to monitor planes in real time because of years of improvements in computers and growing use of GPS. Portions of the data are publicly available from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, or it can be accessible to anyone with the right radio receiver at home.
Starting in 2020, the FAA required that any aircraft that expected to be guided by air-traffic controllers — which includes almost all high-performance jets — needed to install equipment that used on-board GPS to automatically broadcast its position.
That meant that the expensive, government-run radar system was no longer the primary means of tracking planes. The result is higher accuracy and safety improvements for such things as midair collision prevention. It has even allowed real-time aircraft tracking in the most remote regions of the world from space, and near instantaneous notifications of crashes.
But it also meant that the radio broadcasts from aircraft could be monitored by anyone with a receiver on the ground.
Services such as ADSBExchange, Flightradar24 and FlightAware, among others, have created networks of receivers — often operated by volunteers — across the world.
ADSBexchange.com was a source of data for Jack Sweeney, the Florida student who ran Twitter accounts that tracked Musk and others with private planes. Its account was among the suspended. “I don’t get it,” said Dan Streufert, the flight-tracking company’s founder and president.
Streufert said he never intended his service to become a de facto paparazzi tool. What had started as a hobby has evolved into a growing business that tracks flights, but has also assisted accident investigations and can perform a public service by helping monitor aircraft noise and other issues, he said.
Were those who shared the data “doxxing”?
Following his suspensions of the journalists, Musk cited Twitter’s doxxing policy, which forbids users from sharing sensitive or personal information about other people on the service without their consent. The violations appear to tie back to a single Twitter account — @ElonJet, run by Sweeney — which has more than half a million followers and tweets out the location of Musk’s private plane, including when and where it took off and landed.
On Wednesday, Musk suspended @ElonJet after an incident in LA where he says a car carrying his young son was followed by a stalker. Musk has suggested that public access to his plane information led to the incident.
Twitter has long had a doxxing policy that forbids sharing things like another person’s home address or phone number, but that policy was updated last week to add new language about “live location information.”
The update meant that people who share “travel routes, actual physical location, or other identifying information that would reveal a person’s location, regardless if this information is publicly available” could now be suspended. Many of the journalists that were suspended have covered Musk for years, and had linked to info about @ElonJet or linked to other non-Twitter accounts that included Musk’s private jet information.
Musk also suspended the account for a rival social network, Mastodon, for tweeting a promotion that @ElonJet was publishing Musk’s private plane details on their service, instead.
The suspensions led to an outcry by those who pointed out that private jet information is largely public. Twitter’s policy also says that “sharing information that is publicly available elsewhere” is not a violation of the doxxing policy, and previously had an exemption for journalists, who often report on real-time events.
Can’t Musk just make his data private?
People who for security or privacy reasons don’t want their location known can opt to have the FAA screen their aircraft’s identity. But some of the underlying information remains a public record, and enterprising sleuths such as Sweeney have taken advantage of that for their broadcast accounts.
Because most U.S. airports are public, anyone watching a $50 million private jet on a runway can also crack the code.
“These privacy mitigation programs are effective for real-time operations but do not guarantee absolute privacy,” the FAA said in a statement.
Eliminating this data from the public domain seems unlikely.
“The current system of aviation in this country is mostly funded by the taxpayer,” said Jeff Guzzetti, an aviation safety consultant who previously served as the head of accident investigations with the FAA. “So the federal government owns and operates this equipment and therefore is obligated to make it available to the citizens who are paying for it.”
The underlying reason for the current system is to prevent planes from colliding in midair and other safety concerns, Guzzetti said.
“Aviation in this country is a very complex, well thought-out choreography of thousands of aircraft to ensure safety,” he said. “The whole industry needs to be on-board with that.”
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